Former president of Colombia Álvaro Uribe spoke to a packed auditorium at the Owen L. Coon Forum Monday night on the requirements and challenges of leadership.
“In our 200 years of independence only 47 have been in peace,” he said. “Anyone who wants to be a leader can be a leader…. I acted because it was necessary to change this long line of violence in my country.”
Uribe emphasized the importance of democratic security for Colombia and recalled difficult instances of dealing with car bombings, hostages and heavy narco-terrorism.
“We cry, but we can’t give up,” Uribe said.
When addressing some of the more controversial aspects of his eight-year presidency, Uribe told his side of the story.
“Many of the crimes are from the prior administration,” he said. “The people are misinformed.”
President Uribe was originally scheduled to speak at the Latin American Business Conference last year, however he was brought in coordination with the University of Chicago as the kick off speaker for this year’s conference in May.
“The purpose of these events is to bring a diverse group of speakers to challenge and enlighten the community,” Senior Associate Dean David Austen-Smith said.
Uribe left the auditorium with a standing ovation, but a handful of students, such as first-year graduate student Silvia Otero, a Colombian international student, choose not to participate.
“He responded the way I expected him to,” Otero said. “He was inconsistent between attributing the positive to his administration and blaming the negative on the past administration.”
Otero was joined by over 20 students, many of whom where Colombian, in silently protesting the event. A handful waited outside wearing clown noses and pinned pictures of “false positive” Colombian victims while a small number stood along the walls of the room. The group of students passed out literature and clown noses before the event.
“The noses are an expression of opposition,” Otero said. “The Uribe government has an unfortunate relationship with the word ‘disguise.’”
The group was headed by Barnaby King, a third-year graduate student, who had told the administration beforehand of their desire to protest. King emailed University President Morton Schapiro a letter of his concerns signed by six professors and eight students. He also contacted the event’s moderator, professor Harry Kraemer, and several news agencies.
“We felt there needed to be an opposition, someone should be explaining the other side,” King said.
He briefly interrupted the closing remarks.
“I had nothing prepared, but I wanted to say I know you’re lying,” King told Uribe. “I don’t have stats, but I know in my heart and you know in yours that you were lying.”
King reflected on his actions afterward.
“I don’t know how successful it was, but it was in solidarity,” he said. “It was symbolic with those that suffered under his administration. We remember them.”